VACCINATION ARMY WAY
A Quadragenarian’s Saga of Inoculation
I am an extremely health-conscious man. I dislike the idea of baleful medicines going into my body. I only allow healthy things like alcohol and tobacco to enter the temple of my body.
One after another, all my friends have taken their jabs. They said you would require to show jab certificates in future at many places; like when you go to the airport on your way to take over as Military Attache at New York. Better get over with it in time, lest you forego being the DA to Hawaii. The chaps knew I was a fired case, but no harm in rubbing it in, eh. They are headed for plush appointments.
I crept in like a timid squirrel searching for a chestnut to the Command Headquarters MI Room. A petite lady, a major of the Military Nursing Service, was injecting Covishield Serum at the firing rate of twenty to a minute. She would ask an innocuous question and before the sepoy had time to think of a reply, in went the needle, like an AK round.
“Ghar me sabb thik hai?”
“Next aao, baitho.”
“Bacche thik hai.”
“Misez theek hai?”
To get a gentler jab, I wished her “Good morning Major,” fearing the power of her robotic arm.
“Oh! an officer.” she thought.
Her eyes made out the officer from the plumpness of his rounded cheeks, his receding hair line and the enviable embonpoint around his torso. She raised a beautifully manicured eyebrow of amusement.
The javelin arm wavered midair and she condescended to be well-mannerly. “Any allergies sir.” She enquired, as if asking the proverbial Eid goat for his last wish.
“I have once had a bad allergic reaction to Ciprofloxin twenty-two years ago.” I was fearing the moment the needle went in, I would be writhing in convulsions and sores would erupt on my body.
Best thing is to be honest with the Army Medical Corps. They are reputed to be even more compassionate than the Punjab Police if you cross them.
“Sir please go and take clearance from the DMO to take your vaccine.”
A startlingly handsome young Captain was presiding over the OPD and examining the families. He had the face of a school boy. A fringe of grey hair dusted the flanks of his otherwise black head. I read his name tab.
“Nehra I am allergic to Ciprofloxin, can I take the jab?”
I think besides medical knowledge, they must be choosing high risk takers as doctors for the Army Medical Corps; especially when the risk victim in front of you looked like a middle-aged, derelict, superseded half colonel of no consequence to Ind Army.
“O, why not Sir? You are just the kind of patient I have been waiting for all these weeks. No problem Sir, take the jab. I have the anti-allergy tray ready here, I will be so glad to DEALLERGIFY you in a jiffy. In fact, I have been eagerly waiting to inaugurate our new kit on someone. We have got it specially for this Corona Outbreak.”
He flipped open the lid of the black suitcase to reveal a shiny row of vials and a very mean looking, thick, long hypodermic needle.
“You see Sir, we are well prepared over here. When that six-inch needle goes into a recalcitrant bum of any man, all allergies will disappear.”
Sweat broke out on my brow and I heard frogs croaking in my tummy. I rushed back to the nursing officer to get over with it. But she had a fearsome way of hitting the needle home. I had been watching her at work.
“Ahh Major, did I tell you that you look so much like that Nursing Officer in the movie Pearl Harbour; Lieutenant Evelyn Johnson played by Kate Beckinsale. You really do. Hasn’t anybody ever told you so?”
Fear was making me say the kind of things that I was used to saying twenty years ago; in a different age that seemed so pleasant and so far away in the past.
“Indeed, Sir our Chief Matron did tell me before I came on this Covid Inoculation duty that I was being detailed for a war experience. “O, how charming and disarmingly truthful of her.” I said.
She had lifted my sleeve and was rubbing ether on my shoulder. “What else did the matron…aahhh!”
In one fluid movement, like a blur of light the needle went inside and before I could utter a word, she was throwing the needle into the dustbin. My question hung in my mouth like a morsel of food.
“What else did the matron say?” I asked recovering my speech.
“She said that I was to give a friendly injection to anyone who tries sweet talk the nursing officer, especially superseded, middle-aged officers like you Sir.”
” O I see, such kindness! So, this was your friendly injection meant for special officers: didn’t feel a thing. Please pass my best compliments to your Matron Mamma.”
She looked at her watch. “It is 9 a.m. now; please wait till 5 in the evening. You will have the time of your life Sir, with best compliments of the Military Nursing Corps. Now go and sit outside for half an hour, will you? I have got work to do.”
“Next.” She called out. “How’s your wife?” Jab. “Next.” I swaggered through the spring day with invincible confidence in my resilience to piddly injections. I have the army officers’ habit of being brave in hindsight. Covid inoculation, my foot! I was as tough an Indian Army officer as they make. Milk guzzling, push up crunching, I will go for my ten km and daroo in the evening. Corona or no fuckin Corona Vaccine.
The watch hand crept on towards five. The orange sun hung low in the west as if painted by Van Gogh. The muezzin in the masjid of Hassanpura adjoining 61 Cavalry Polo Ground started calling the faithful to prayer. Twenty other subsidiary hidden muezzins, as if waiting at the mike like German Machinegun squads on Utah beach, started belching out furious streams of loud Allaaaooooos. Were they trying to draw God’s attention or scaring him away! All hell of broke loose on peace of the wild things.
Partridges scampered in terror, sprinting dementedly like girls escaping rapists in the badlands of Uttar Pradesh. The lugubrious red-eyed wood crow froze in the grass as if electrocuted on the spot, the slow hunter that he is. Tiny chicks of red-wattled lapwings froze in the buds of grass and merged with the earth. An armada of doves took off with creaking pinions.
I dare not look up in the sky, fearing that a long-bearded God was observing me unfavourably from the blue heavens. He sat with a pencil making the day’s entries in his double entry ledger, recording the fates of feckless mortals. Subject Number 2083417895432907 took Covishield Vaccine today and though a married man, tried to chat up the Nursing Corps Major. He licked the old pencil of justice and wrote in remarks column. Ten lashes, sin level moderate, on 3 April 2021. Witness No. 1 and 2, noting the names of the handsome captain and Kate Beckinsale. Place Command MI Room, Jaipur, etc.
Allah receded from the temporal spaces after recording my lack of virtue. Time for Shivji to take over; the affairs of erring mortals in his hands now. From Hindu Gods I expect kinder amnesty in his taal patra of paap praschit. The temple loudspeakers now started singing at full decibel.
“Subaah subaah low Shiv kaa naam, Shiv aayengey terey kaam…..” Croons the singer in a honeyed, excessively submissive way of singing. I think of doing sifaarish with Shivji to get my ten lashes cancelled from Allah’s ledger. Must do daan of hundred bucks on my way back. Give Roti to Cow also. It’s a bad day to cross God today, be he a stern constipated Arabian desert God or a Subcontinental Hindustani God.
A shaft of dull pain breaks in my knee. Looks like Gods have taken notice of my blasphemous thoughts. I look at the watch. Quarter past five. Something like a silent alligator in the turbid waters of the Chambal starts creeping inside my blood. I turn my hull homewards. Red, burning arrowheads are flying in my flesh, stinging like tar and pitch. A boomerang is hitting the walls of my head. I drag myself homewards. Fever like the radiating heat from a grate fire is spreading inside my flesh. I start feeling arctic cold. I want to wear a pullover. I barely drag myself home and up the stairs, writhing in fever. I drink two bottles of water and call up the smart Sardar Nursing Assistant whom I had met during the day at the MI Room.
“Tussi aithey aa jao, thwaddi ANTIALLERGY mataa kadd deni Saabji – Please come here Sir, we will give you antiallergy treatment and drive away your blues.”
I shiver at the recall of that giant needle and the black suitcase. “Nahi bhai, me bukhar hi bardaash karr loonga – No it’s all right, I can bear the fever.”
“Okay Sir, then you can take a paracetamol every four hours and drink lots of non-alcoholic water. Nothing to worry.”
Nothing to worry, he says. It feels as if someone has been thrashing me for a week.
A farmer cousin calls me up in the evening. I tell him I got vaccinated and was running high fever. He laughs and says, “Brother all fauji things are extra pure and extra powerful. Just look at fauji daroo; fauji vaccine also has ten times more power than civil vaccine. I called you to arrange me a case of Royal Stage. Shaadi hai.”
Strange Haryanvi logic, I rued. I applied an ice pack and started writing about my Jab experience. Royal Stage indeed. He meant Royal Stag; another kind of vaccine for the liver.